Friday, July 4, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Regime has No Challengers but is ‘Liquidating’ Itself, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 4 – Vladimir Putin has eliminated challengers to his regime by integrating some within it and repressing those beyond it, but despite that achievement, his “regime is engaged in its own liquidation” and those who do not like what he has been doing must search each other out online and be ready for the collapse, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.

            In a long and wide-ranging interview postedon yesterday, the Russian commentator offers his judgments on this and a variety of related subjects in what might be described as a summary of his point of view on Russia under Putin. Below, in bullet-point fashion are some of the most important (

·         Russian faces increasingly serious economic difficulties, and these will give rise to social problems “in the near term.” But the regime will not take any radical steps beyond repression because the Kremlin understands that any radical steps would “only deepen the catastrophe.”

·         Stagnation is inevitable because of the nature of the Russian economic system. Its lack of private property independent of the will of the ruler means that it is neither socialism nor capitalism and cannot avail itself of the measures available to one or the other.

·         Despite what some think, Putin cannot move in the direction of Asian authoritarianism. He lacks the will to arrest his close friends, unlike Les Kuan Yew did.  And Russians are not Chinese: They won’t work “for a dollar a month,” they have evolved an orderly succession system, and they are far more meritocratic: Chinese are promoted for their contributions and not just their closeness to the leader.

·         Moreover, unlike the Chinese, Russians are taking their talents and money out of Russia rather than returning them.  But there is a way in which Russia is “becoming China but by a somewhat different path: by the swallowing up of the Far East and Siberia by the Chinese,” something Beijing is no longer even being shy about saying.

·         Putin’s recent gas deal with China is not an end but a narcotic: it leads many in Moscow to think they have found a way out of the confrontation with the West.  That is not the case. But it does have one positive consequence for the Russian regime: No other government would agree to the terms of this deal and consequently, China will support the Putin regime by any eans, including if need be “military force.”

·         People should not use the word corruption when speaking about the Putin system.  Corruption, Piontkovsky says, is when a businessman bribes anofficial. But in Russia, the businessman and the official “are one and the same.”  That is why Putin’s personal wealth already exceeds 100 billion US dollars.”

·         Putin is going to engage ever more frequently in aggression abroad just as Hitler did. That is clear from his speeches which echo the words of Hitler.  The end won’t be pretty or far away.  Hitler lasted seven years after he seized the Sudenland, “but now processes are developing much more quickly.”

·         Putin has few good choices in Ukraine, Piontkovsky says. Backing off will offend Russian nationalists at home, and more open support of the secessionists will lead to more sanctions from the West. Consequently, he will likely try “a third variant,” one in which he will seek to entangle Kyiv in talks, “legitimize” the secessionists, and block Ukraine from “successfully developing according to the European model.” 

·         Putin’s efforts to “reincarnate the USSR” in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union are already doomed.  He is constantly “broadening the definition of ‘the Russian world’” from an ethnic one to a political one, and his heavy-handedness is driving away even those like Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Nursultan Nazarbayev who had been willing to cooperate earlier.

·         “’Domination on the post-Soviet space’ is a disease not only of Putin but of the entire [Russian] political class,” and consequently, the Kremlin leader can count on generating support for himself by pursuing that.

·         Moscow television is not going to declare that “as of tomorrow, there will be a dictatorship.”  That is not how it works.  Dictatorship is something that grows. The Russian regime now is “much closer to dictatorship than it was in 2003 or 2006. When they come for us, then we will find out: yes, this is a dictatorship. And they have aleady come for many.”

·         The Putin regime is “still rational: it selects the level of repression which it needs for the preservation of power,” no more and no less. The current level of repression is what it needs given the challenges it currently faces. As those challenges increase, its repression will increase.

·         Many in the Russian elites are upset by specific things Putin is doing, but they remain more afraid of what the population might do to them than they are of Putin. Consequently, they remain his supportersin order to protect themselves against the people.

·         Those in the elite who might have been expected to emerge as opponents of the reie have proven to be more cowardly because they are “billionaires and millionaires” and because “they hope that in 2024 or 2030, Putin will hand over power to someone from their own circle.” As long as that is true, there will not be any “split” within the elites and the stability of the Putin regime will be secure.

·         Putin will not stand down in the next presidential race. For him “to leave power would be equivalent to suicide: he has seen what happened with Qaddafi and Mubarak and will not go voluntarily.”

·         But another form of opposition is emerging, a nationalistic one.  Liberalism and leftwing ideologies have been discredited, and so nationalism is the only thing left.  Putin has coopted some of it but cannot go all the way because of the nature of his system. Consequently, his nationalism will involve primarily the search for ever new categories of enemies. He will be able to do this because Russian society is so “atomized” and degraded. What he cannot afford is the appearance inside the Russian Federation of real nationalists like some of those in eastern Ukraine.

·         All of this will end badly, Piontkovsky says, “with the collapse of [the Russian] state.” And that will happen more rapidly than otherwise because of the leader cult and the attacks on anyone who points out any problem.

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